Classic Women 2020 Part 2: Olive, Lady Audley’s Secret & The Lily and the Thorn

Image result for victorian painting

At the end of last year, I decided I really wanted to dig into classics in 2020. I challenged myself to read two classics a month, at least one of which was by a female author. I picked twelve women and created the Classic Women Reading Challenge. All the details are in this post. Check it out and feel free to join me!


I’m setting myself a personal target to try at least one novel by a ‘classic’ woman writer and at least one other classic (of any type/ author) each month next year. I’ll be combining my personal goals with some existing readathons: #Victober, #Georgianary, #ClassicsCommunity and #JaneAustenJuly. *Phew!*

I’ve picked 12 female authors who published work pre-1914. They’re all pretty prolific and pretty well-known — I think — so should be easy enough to find a good selection to choose from. 


From January to March, my classic female authors were Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Emmuska Orczy. Check out my thoughts on those here.

From April to June, my classic female authors were Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Margaret Oliphant.



April:  Olive by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

May: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

June: The Lily and the Thorn by Margaret Oliphant



My Thoughts on the Books


Olive by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

OliveI really like the character of Olive herself. She was so kind and caring, I spent a lot of the book hoping that no-one was going to hurt her feelings, especially as a child.

The plot was very slow, and there were lots of things during the childhood section that I would have cut down, even though they did become relevant eventually.

I think I rated this around 3.5 stars, and I think it’s one I’ll look back on fondly.

It was interesting to see Olive as a character given the time period the book was written in. Although she has a disability, Olive isn’t a side character or a villain. It’s also interesting to see a woman making a career for herself, and an unusual one at that.



Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Lady Audley's SecretTo be honest, the ‘secret’ in Lady Audley’s Secret is obviously pretty early on. I’ve no idea if it would be as obvious to readers at the time, but I think it would. That’s not really the point, I don’t think. 

The book was really readable and I think it would make a brilliant place to start with classics. It’s probably the most accessible of the books I’ve read so far for this challenge.

George though! I wanted to smack him! How turns up after walking out without a word three years earlier — in the middle of the night — and expects his wife and kid to be exactly where he left them? And to be happy to see him?!

Without giving away the ending or the ‘secret’, the unveiling and it’s lead-up felt a little too much of a sudden jump to pantomime villain but I could, understand the initial motivation. I would have preferred it if it had been played more as a bold initial choice that had regretfully spiralled out of control.


The Lily and the Thorn by Margaret Oliphant

7 best short stories by Margaret Oliphant eBook: Margaret Oliphant ...The first real outright disappointment of this challenge so far.

Also the first author who I’d actually already read something by.


I read Hester last year and, while I found it a challenging read, I felt that I got more than enough out of it to justify the effort. It was really interesting and full of unusual characters. The Lily and the Thorn? Not so much. Luckily, it was a short story so at least I finished it. Oliphant has a huge bibliography though, so maybe I’ve just stumbled onto a dud.

Based on Hester and Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond, I’m not giving up on Oliphant quite yet, and I think I’ll still try her Carlingford series at some point.



Plot Summaries


Olive by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

First published in 1850, Olive traces its eponymous heroine’s progress from her ill-starred birth to maturity as a painter and wife. The crippled child of parents who are disgusted by her physical ‘imperfection’, a curvature of the spine, Olive struggles to take her place in the world as artist and woman. Published three years after Jane Eyre, Olive’s swift fictional response to Charlotte Bronte’s novel raises questions of family, race and nation.


Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Bigamy, child abandonment, deception, theft, murder, and insanity all take part of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel. Her over-the-top drama was one of the most popular novels of the mid-1800s and provides an interesting portrayal of both class- and gender issues as they intersect within the domestic sphere.


The Lily and the Thorn by Margaret Oliphant

In the dales of northern England lies the village of Waterdale. Lily Murray was born of the peasant class, but her striking beauty draws “gentlemen” around her – including the young squire Roger Ridley and Sir Richard Featherstonehaugh, who is engaged to Roger’s sister. As jealous tensions build between these two men, there is a further complication when a summer visitor with hidden ties to Lily is introduced into their circle. Before the story ends one man will commit murder, and another man will flee.




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